Chicago (AFP) - McDonald's workers filed dozens of new sexual harassment charges against the fast food giant, advocates said Tuesday, escalating a years-long battle for unionization in the US and stronger worker protections.
The complaints, filed with the US agency that investigates workplace misconduct, were on behalf of workers in 20 cities.
Allegations included groping, indecent exposure, propositions for sex and retaliation against those who complained.
Dozens of workers protested in front of the company's headquarters in Chicago, two days before its annual shareholders' meeting, tying their efforts to the #MeToo movement.
"I was subjected to a humiliating and intimidating environment at McDonald's and managers did nothing to stop it," said Jamelia Fairley, a worker of a Florida store who filed a complaint.
In advance of the protest, McDonald's CEO Steve Easterbrook said in a letter that the company has improved its sexual harassment policy, training and education initiatives, and provided resources for its franchisees to do the same.
"The McDonald's system has always had an unyielding commitment to providing a safe and respectful work environment for all," Easterbrook said in the letter.
The company has said it has limited authority over the personnel decisions of its US franchisees -- independent businesses that operate more than 90 percent of its 14,000 US restaurants.
Workers say little if anything has changed since 10 complaints were filed last year with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and 15 complaints in 2016.
Many of the cases are still pending -- two have advanced to lawsuits, joining three other lawsuits filed outside of EEOC review, according to workers' advocates who claim McDonald's has not done enough to address their concerns.
"We can find no one who has heard of a new policy or training initiative," said Gillian Thomas, an attorney with the ACLU Women's Rights Project, which is helping the workers.
Workers are demanding the right to help craft sexual harassment policies and for the corporation to assert control over the personnel decisions of franchisees.
Their demands are part of a unionization effort of McDonald's workers known as "Fight for $15" -- an initiative begun in 2012 with demands for a $15 minimum wage.
The Time's Up legal defense fund, created to help workers who don't have deep pockets to fight sexual harassment, is bankrolling the effort.